Richard Nixon Delivers his 'Checkers' Speech

The Checkers speech or Fund speech was an address made by United States Senator from California and Republican vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon on television and radio on September 23, 1952.

Senator Nixon had been accused of improprieties relating to a fund established by his backers to reimburse him for his political expenses. With his place on the Republican ticket in doubt, he flew to Los Angeles and delivered a half-hour television address in which he defended himself, attacked his opponents, and urged the audience to contact the Republican National Committee (RNC) to tell it whether he should remain on the ticket. During the speech, he stated that regardless of what anyone said, he intended to keep one gift: a black-and-white dog which was named Checkers by the Nixon children, thus giving the address its popular name.

What Nixon did that night saved his candidacy. From a studio in Los Angeles, Nixon gave the nation a detailed report of his financial history, everything from the mortgage on his house to the one political gift he said he intended to keep, a little dog his daughters named "Checkers." While this reference to his dog provided the popular name for one of the twentieth century's most significant political speeches, Nixon did much more than create a colorful image. He effectively refuted the ridiculous charge that he used the fund to live a life of luxury, while deflecting the more fundamental questions involving the influence gained by its contributors—questions that the Democrats seemed to lose sight of in their haste to sensationalize the story. Nixon also challenged the other candidates to make a full disclosure of their assets, knowing that Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson had problems with a fund of his own. Finally, he urged viewers to write to the Republican National Committee to state whether Nixon should leave or remain on the ticket. He presented himself as a common American, struggling to pay the bills, doing his part to clean up "the mess in Washington," and suffering the attacks of vicious foes.

When asked if he would stay seated at the desk that had been provided for him, Nixon said he did not know, but to keep the cameras on him. Under these circumstances, Nixon must have been deeply emotionally involved with what he was saying, but did he express his emotions genuinely? In some cases he did, but in others he overdramatized or expressed sentiments that he really did not feel.